Eyes on the Outdoors - Husein Latif

During his childhood,Husein Latif was exposed to nature and wildlife, courtesy his father, who was a keen nature lover. Referring to his father’s uncle, Dr Salim Ali’s books on birds and other wildlife magazines, he began identifying species of birds and animals with ease.

A glance at Husein’s breathtaking work quickly transports one to the tranquil jungles and provides an adventure-like experience of the wild. But then, what else does one expect, when talent is infused with inherited genes and skills?

How did you develop an interest in photography?
It was by chance. I have a friend who is a keen nature and wildlife photographer, and I used to accompany him on his photography trips just to be out in the wilderness. It was then that I first tried my hand at photography. I was working in Bengaluru during that period and would often head out into the many areas surrounding the city to photograph birds and wildlife. My love for the outdoors grew from viewing and identifying species to being able to capture what I saw at that moment. Gradually, the pastime turned into passion.

Your subjects are mostly aves and terrestrial animals. Why is that?
It isn’t a conscious decision. While a majority of my photography is on avian and terrestrial animals, I enjoy street, landscape, and portrait photography as well, and have branched out into commercial photography such as real estate, the odd baby shoot etc. My most recent assignment has been working on showcasing fabrics by Malkha, a brand that stands for a decentralised, sustainable, field-to-fabric cotton textile chain, collectively owned and managed by village level farmers and weaver families.

I enjoy the challenges of photographing in natural light. As you have minimal control over the light conditions, backgrounds, shadows, and in the case of birds and animals you get a few minutes or sometimes even seconds to shoot a photograph that makes it worth travelling all the distance. It is far more satisfying than the controlled environment of a studio. Wild animals/birds are going to do what they’re going to do. You can’t ask them to look this way or that.

Getting a perfect shot can entail waking up to pre-dawn alarm clocks, walking long distances in leech-infested regions, hiking in extreme cold conditions, and dawn to dusk exposure to the scorching sun. Sometimes, all these efforts may not get you even a single photograph, but there is no other way to do it. However it’s not wasted time. The longer you spend with an animal/bird or a group of them, the better you get to know them and their habits, which reflect in your work.

Is there an incident from your encounters with animals that has left an impact on you?
An incident that taught me to respect nature and realise that it was important to know and recognise animal behaviour very early in my photography days comes to mind...we were at a safari in Kabini, where we spotted a herd of female elephants in a close-knit group. Our guide, in anticipation of them crossing the path behind us, stopped the car a little ahead and we waited for an opportunity to present itself.

As they got closer, we realised the reason they were walking in a tight group was because there was a newborn calf that they were protecting. Elephants, like most wild animals, are extremely protective of their young and so the herd was wary of our vehicle stopping nearby. While all of us in the vehicle were quiet and busy taking photographs, one of the photographers inadvertently had his flash on due to the low light. This didn’t go down too well with the elephants and we had one of them break out and charge at our vehicle.

How then did you escape the attack?
In all the confusion and rising panic, our vehicle wouldn’t start, we were stuck in the vehicle, with a huge angry elephant trumpeting and charging at us no less than a few feet away. I have to say, during those moments I believed that it was the end of us. We were all paralyzed with the sight and sound of an angry elephant no more than 15-20 feet away. As luck would have it, the vehicle finally coughed to life and we just about managed to speed away, avoiding by the skin of our teeth what could have been a gory end.

The learning from this incident is that one has to respect wild animals and follow certain basic ground rules in the jungle. It is shocking to see how people behave on safaris in wildlife parks across India, groups of people littering the place, talking loudly, trying to attract the attention of the animal by making noises, trying to click selfies etc. One has to be mindful and aware of animal behaviour and respect the fact that we are intruding their space, and the least we can do is be quiet, wear camouflage gear/dull colours, and not litter and pollute the only areas where a lot of these species are still found.

What do you consider your best work so far?
I think the best is yet to come. Every day that I shoot, I am still learning something new. I feel that photography is a passion, which enables me to channelise and express my creativity.     
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      --- as told to Sumana